A Cautionary Tale: President Abbie Hoffman

Imagine, if you will, an alternate reality where counterculture radical Abbie Hoffman was somehow elected president of the United States in 1972. Ridiculed as a lunatic by his opponents and considered a long shot even by ardent supporters, Hoffman lost the popular vote to incumbent Richard Nixon. But, due to a quirk in America's voting system, he squeaked through a narrow victory in the electoral college and, on January 20, 1973, assumed the presidency.

Predictably, sweeping and radical changes came swiftly to the US government. In March, Secretary of Defense Eldridge Cleaver was tasked with withdrawing all troops from Vietnam, followed by a complete dismantling of the military and all police forces. By July, Secretary of the Treasury Jerry Rubin had closed the New York Stock Exchange and eliminated the dollar as the basis of US currency, stating that money would henceforth be "free, because it's yours."

In 1974's infamous War on Sobriety, drug czars Grace Slick and Jerry Garcia oversaw the legalization of all drugs and the introduction of LSD into the country's water supply. 1975 saw Attorney General Allen Ginsberg grant clemency to all state and federal prisoners, in the process converting the country's empty prisons into ashrams and zendos. Ginsberg's other pet project was a month-long attempt to levitate the Pentagon via chanting.

By mid-1976 the United States was in tatters, and with Republican challenger Gerald Ford rising steadily in the polls, Hoffman published Steal This Election, a manifesto warning of the dire consequences of a Ford victory. In it, he insisted that Ford's candidacy was a CIA- and Mafia-backed plot, and indeed a threat to democracy itself. Ford's ascendancy in the polls, Hoffman argued, was nothing but a sure sign that the November election would be rigged. In the book's final chapter, Hoffman urged his supporters—hippies, yippies, anarchists and "lovers of freedom"—to take direct action should the November results be in Ford's favour.

Ford, of course, won the 1976 election handily, but Hoffman refused to concede. Scores of lawsuits alleging voter fraud were summarily tossed, even by such Hoffman-friendly judicial appointees as Bobby Seale and Bernadine Dohrn. As the president's conspiracy-themed rantings grew increasingly shrill and unhinged, Vice-President Huey Newton tried to talk him down from what had become his fixation: a violent revolution that would enshrine him in his rightful role as president ... for life.

One way or another, things had to come to a head. On January 6, 1977, two weeks before Ford's inauguration, thousands of self-styled "patriot freaks," fuelled by speed, cocaine and an early-morning rally with President Hoffman, stormed the US Capitol. Any remnants of a security force were swamped in minutes, as the rioters smashed windows and doors, desecrating the hallowed halls of Congress. "Start the steal!" they shouted as the melee unfolded. "The people's house belongs to the people!"

America, you have just endured four years of Abbie Hoffman's mirror image.